Archive for category: Religion (Page 2)

Biblical Illiteracy and the Canaanites

31 Jul
July 31, 2017

USA Today recently reported that the Bible was proven incorrect through genetic research that revealed descendants of the Canaanites still existed in spite of what they reported was the Bible’s “claim” that they were exterminated.

The article is fascinating and frustrating. On the one hand, the genetic research is incredibly interesting; it is fascinating to see where the descendants of the Canaanites ended up. Especially given, as the article correctly points out, how little we have in the way of historical records about them.

HOWEVER.

The reporter didn’t do his homework. The verse cited, Deuteronomy 20:17, does not claim the Canaanites are destroyed. Instead, it is a command to wipe them out – one which the Bible clearly points out the Jewish people, under the command of Joshua, did not follow. The story of the walls of Jericho gets the most press with the narrative recorded in Joshua 6. In that instance, they did kill and destroy everything following a dramatic story of marching, trumpets, yelling, and walls collapsing.

But just a few chapters later, a different type of story is recorded. In Joshua 9, the story of the Gibeonites is described. They were Canaanites as well who managed to trick Joshua and the others into thinking they were from far away. Scripture notes that Joshua did not go to the Lord about it, but instead agreed to a treaty and made a promise to not wipe them out. When they realized the deception, that they were actually from nearby and one of the cities they were to wipe out, Joshua honored his promise and did not wipe them out. In fact, the story ends with this comment:

“So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day.” (Joshua 9:26-27)

So, to sum up, not only does the Bible NOT claim that the Canaanites were totally destroyed; at the time of its writing, it notes their continued existence. Which ultimately points to the importance of carefully researching scripture before jumping to conclusions.

Rob Bell’s “What is the Bible?”

14 Jul
July 14, 2017

What-Is-the-Bible 2Rob Bell’s latest book, What is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything, is both insightful and maddening. Bell has always intrigued me; he’s an incredible communicator with an often times unique perspective on the Bible. His goal with this latest book is to convey all of the excitement, passion, and thrills that come with reading the Bible – something he observes (correctly) that so many miss.

Bell does a great job of paying attention to the Jewish culture, both during Christ’s time and during the times the Old Testament books were written, as well as the Roman culture and other ancient middle eastern cultures and religions. He eloquently paints a picture of the connecting threads throughout all of scripture pointing to an exciting message from God. I loved his observations about Abraham’s covenant with God, the struggle Jonah went through, as well as the writing styles and priorities of ancient writers. I also thought his notes on how modern day Americans process and interpret scripture through our cultural lens conflicts so often without us even realizing it with the culture and writing styles of those who wrote these books so long ago.

But Bell is also maddening.

I feel so pretentious for even writing this, but his books have grown increasingly intellectually lazy. He makes bold claims about meanings of words, culture, theories, and explanations – and footnotes none of it. He doesn’t cite anything! Even half of the scriptures he quotes he does without even giving a reference; and the other half of the time he only mentions the book and maybe the chapter. I found myself doing keyword searches to try and find what verse he was quoting and what translation it was to find the context because of his tendency to prooftext and play fast and loose with his scripture quotes. Some of his theories I was able to find in commentaries, however, they tended to be alternate understandings of a passage’s interpretation rejected by most scholars.

His theology on salvation, revealed in his book Love Wins, returns in the third section of this book. Because of his conviction that ultimately all are saved regardless of their faith in this life, the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death and resurrection is at the very least minimized in this book if not removed all together. He contends that the sacrificial system at large, and therefore the perspective of interpreting Christ’s death through that lens, is purely a human creation made in response to pagan sacrificial systems. His chapter on whether or not scripture is authoritative was also troubling to me; while he believes scripture does have authority, he seems to view it as equal to a number of other sources, which is a dangerous approach at best. From his perspective, he is genuinely advocating for scripture’s authority; and his love of the Bible comes through on every page of the book, however, in his assertion of a variety of other authoritative sources he ultimately both reduces scripture’s power and opens the door recklessly putting faith anywhere and everywhere.

Ultimately, I was fascinated by the book, but because of his pattern of making claims without citing evidence or sources, his loose use of scripture, and his reckless theology when it comes to salvation and authority, it’s not one I would recommend to others. He’s given me a lot to think about, and he does bring the scriptures to life in a way that few can do – but unless the reader is well versed in scripture and theology, it becomes too easy to accept the dangerous theology sprinkled throughout the book.

Caleb and Micah’s Mission Trip Report

10 Jul
July 10, 2017

On June 25th, the student ministry took over both worship services at our church, Brandywine Valley Baptist Church, to share their favorite moments and what God taught them during the mission trips to Maine, Detroit and Peru. I was particularly proud and excited to hear what Caleb, my 13 year old son, would share about his trip to Maine, and what Micah, my 15 year old son, would share about his trip to Detroit.

I actually led the mission trip to Peru, so this was the first year that McNutt’s were on all three student mission trips. It hit me a few days before the trips were to leave that I have incredible youth leaders; it never even occurred to me to worry about sending my sons with the leaders on either the Maine or Detroit trip. My trust and confidence in them is that high! Our volunteers love God and their calling to work with young people – it’s an incredible team to be a part of!

Forgiveness and Abuse

07 Jul
July 7, 2017

forgiveness

Back in May I did a sermon on Colossians 3:12-17 and the call to Christians to forgive one another. If I’m honest, it was one of the more difficult sermons I’ve ever done. The first half was easy; the message of Colossians is pretty clear – but it is not a simple one to live out and my struggle is that too often sermons on forgiveness come across as too simplistic. God told us to do it, so just do it. And for many of the offenses in life, that is simple enough. But what about the deeper wounds? The scars that are still painful years or decades later? So I spoke about the physical and emotional abuse I experienced as a student at a boarding school for missionary kids in the early nineties. The years long process of navigating forgiveness and healing that I pursued in my early twenties.

You can listen to the sermon here; we had some technical issues so there is no video from that week. It’s the May 7th, 2017, sermon entitled “Out with the Old, In with the New, Part 2.” You can also find it on iTunes.

My notes are below; they are shortened versions of what I actually said, and in places probably only make sense to me:

Unshakeable | Out with the Old, In with the New (part two) Col. 3:12-17 | May 7, 2017

We are working are way through Colossians, the letter written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome. Epaphras founded church in Colosse, when a dangerous heresy erupted in the church, he made the journey to Rome to get Paul’s help and advice.

  • COLOSSIAN HERESY:
  • God/spiritual is good, matter is evil. This translated to either sin or extremely legalistic lifestyles trying to control the flesh.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV) (read the passage)

Do you see the end goal in this section of the letter? Unity. Paul is challenging them to recognize that in Christ, a body of believers should demonstrate a divinely powered unity to each other and the world around them. But how does he get there?

“THEREFORE”

Paul has been beating the drum of spiritual maturity, of unity, of being a new creation in Christ throughout Colossians.

Chapter 2 – zeros in on legalism, the demands of following all sorts of rules.

Colossians 2:22-23

22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Chapter 3 continues this thought …

Colossians 3:1-3

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Last week Nate focused on 3:8-11; where Paul tells the Colossian Christians to stop interacting with each other in the ways of the world; anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, to stop lying to one another – if we have put on this new self, this new life, if we are becoming like Christs, then that should not mark how we treat anyone, let alone members of the body of Christ.

Colossians 3:12-14

The fundamental attitude is bearing with each other and forgiving one another. For Paul, this is the natural outgrowth of the previous five virtues.

The ‘bearing with each other’ is funny; normally it has a negative connotation, but the Greek here indicates a positive meaning. He’s acknowledging that the body of believers in Colossians are a wildly different group. We saw that in verse 11 last week:

Colossians 3:11

11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

He’s saying, you are an incredibly diverse group … but Christ in us erases that. As Christ changes our hearts to be like His, these differences disappear; we bear with each other in a joyful way. WE are a diverse group! We have different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different politics, different views on so many things – and yet, because of Christ we find ourselves here, worshipping together in spite of our differences!

Natural result of all these virtues, in spite of us being imperfect, sinful people – is that we will forgive each other and pursue unity.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Forgive = charizomai (Greek); means forgiving others as an act of grace, freely offered, often not ‘deserved.’

This is a reoccurring theme throughout the New Testament. This idea that because we have been forgiven by God, our natural response should be to forgive others.

Matthew 18:21-35 The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Peter asks how many times should we forgive, 7 times?

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

10,000 bags of gold; 100 silver coins

  1. 33: “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”

British lottery winner. The reality of what he had won had not sunk in yet.

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We are to forgive as God forgave us.

  • Paul is essentially saying that it is utterly inappropriate for one who knows the joy and release of being forgiven to refuse to share that blessing with another.
  • Perhaps more significantly, it is incredibly presumptuous to refuse to forgive someone who Christ Himself has already forgiven.

What is it to forgive? To stop feeling anger, to stop blaming, to stop wanting revenge/payback, to release them of whatever it is you may feel they owe you – however small or big. It’s not pretending it never happened, it’s letting it go, releasing its hold on you. It is an act of grace, given regardless of whether or not they deserve it.

In some cases, forgiveness is an easy grace to extend;

  • To those who apologize
  • The offense was minor, a simple misunderstanding
  • When we are self aware enough to recognize we are overreacting

Sometimes forgiveness is far more difficult;

  • 27 years ago moved to Tambo
  • Graduated 24 years ago, spent next several years filled with rage at even the thought of what went on there.
  • Reached out for help in my early twenties, about two decades ago.
  • I chose to forgive. Does not mean I condone what they did, does not mean I will pretend it didn’t happen, does not mean that they are pardoned from real world consequences to their actions, it does not mean that I have to allow them to hurt me again – but I released its hold on me.
  • Did not happen overnight. I had to choose to forgive over and over, until gradually, it became more natural.
  • This past Christmas, two and a half decades after the fact, after a five/six year investigation, the mission finally acknowledged and gave a hollow apology to me. The decision to forgive happens over and over.

Why share that? Because I don’t want to oversimplify what I’m preaching. We live in a world full of sin and failure. Large percentages of our country have been wronged, abused, assaulted in horrible ways – yes, much of the conflict that happens in a church body can be forgiven through simple steps, but there are other times where it is critical to bring in stronger help, to process and walk through the pain that was inflicted.

Sometimes we can forgive simply through prayer and going to the person.

Sometimes to forgive, we need to enlist the help of others, and recognize that it will be a daily process of committing to that decision.

Junia: The First Woman Apostle review

06 Jul
July 6, 2017

juniaDr. Eldon Epp, a professor of Biblical literature, has put together a thorough and well researched case for the existence of a woman apostle in scripture in his book Junia: The First Woman Apostle. The verse in question?

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Romans 16:7, NIV.

The debate originally centered around the name Junia; is it a woman’s name (Junia) or a man’s name (Junias)? The issue was largely uncontested until two hundred years ago when two scholars, separately, came to the conclusion that the verse clearly points to this individual being an apostle, therefore it must be a man, making it imposible for this Greek name to be translated in a female form. They proposed that the actual name was Junias, a male rendering of the Greek, a theory that was quickly accepted throughout the church and Bible translations were updated to reflect it. However, in recent decades it has become clear that there is no such male name in the Greek, while Junia, the female form, was in fact a common woman’s name through every class of society (slave, poor, wealthy, royalty). Consequently, in recent years Bibles have been corrected to reflect this feminine spelling. At this point, the debate has shifted to question whether or not Junia was an apostle, or simply known to the apostles.

Epp uses his expertise in ancient literature to trace the use of this name and language through every major grouping of Greek texts we have from over the centuries as well as how these texts were understood to make the case that Junia was both understood to be a woman from the beginning, and recognized as an apostle. To say he is thorough in his exploration is an understatement. Making the case for the name being feminine is far easier now than it was fifty years ago; it is widely accepted now in Christian scholarship to be the case.

From there, Epp then tackles the issue of whether or not Junia was recognized as an apostle, or simply known to the apostles. Much of his argument centers on the contention that until the last few decades, this was never even a question; from the time of Chrysotom the two individuals mentioned in this verse were universally accepted to be apostles. Paul does not use the title lightly, and through an examination of the original Greek, Epp makes the case that while there may be some lack of clarity in the English, there was no uncertainty in the Greek. So much so, that it was not even questioned until recently when it became clear that the name Junia was in fact feminine, leading him to conclude that rather than allowing the scriptures to speak for themselves, complementarian theologians are instead rewording the intent of scripture to match their own theology. He cites C.E.B Cranfield’s assertion that this approach is “mere conventional prejudice” (Kindle location 738).

Overall, it is a fascinating exploration of controversial topic. Published by Fortress Press, it is an academic book and not a light read. So much so that a third of the book is footnotes and bibliography. Epp is systematic and thorough in his approach, with each of the ten chapters focused on a different aspect of his case for Junia being a woman apostle. Consequently, there is some repetition as he reiterates different pieces of evidence in support of each point he makes; on the positive side, this allows each chapter to stand on its own, but it does get somewhat repetitive at times. Regardless of one’s opinion on the translation of Romans 16:7, Epp’s book is a strong entry into the discussion.

Us Versus Us review

01 Jul
July 1, 2017

us versus usAndrew Marin’s Us Versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community is a powerful examination of the relationship between the LGBT community and the church. Based on extensive research and surveys – the largest of its type – administered by his organization, The Marin Foundation, Marin presents startling and convicting results. The big result? 86% of the LGBT community were raised in faith communities, leading to the title of the book; Marin contends that for too long the debate on sexuality has been framed as an “us versus them” approach, when the reality is that most of us originated in the same place – it is actually and “us versus us” debate, which has only resulted in damage.

Each chapter is committed to examining the major findings of the research; beyond the 86% statistic, he also found that 54% of those in the LGBT community left their faith communities by the age of 18, 76% are open to returning to faith and its practices, 36% of the LGBT community continue to pursue faith beyond the age of 18, 80% regularly pray regardless of faith association (or lack thereof), and finally, he examines the impact of coming out on religiosity.

For years, Marin has powerfully advocated for building bridges instead of walls in the conversation between the church and the LGBT community. He writes that “we have allowed the people comprising the conversation to be characterized by caricature” (Kindle location 128), pointing out that we define positions and camps, focusing the conversation on opposition. Instead, he advocates for “the lost art of loving in disagreement” (Kindle location 135).

What do we do with these results? For Marin, the answer seems obvious. The pattern for many churches in America has been incredibly painful for those in and out of the congregation; somehow we have not been able to emulate Christ’s approach, which in His divine perfection somehow combined His sinless reputation with the ability to have sinners flock to Him. Throughout the gospels Christ avoided closed door conversations; when people asked him yes/no questions in an effort to nail down where He stood, He answered with parables, with stories, with questions of His own. The result? Instead of shutting down the conversation He continued the dialogue and built bridges.

Do I agree with all of Marin’s conclusions? Not necessarily; we differ on the interpretation of some of the data. But the work he and his team have done is essential. Every pastor/church leader should read this book. It is a powerful insight into a group often dehumanized and vilified by churches in America, and the longing for community and spiritual hunger present there.

Understanding Gender Dysphoria review

31 May
May 31, 2017

mark 2Dr. Mark Yarhouse, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Regent University, has put together a solid resource for leaders and those wanting to know more about Gender Dysphoria, or transgenderism, in his book, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. There are very few issues in my experience as a pastor as misunderstood as this topic, and in that misunderstanding, tremendous damage and hurt has been and will continue to be caused.

Yarhouse does a tremendous job of explaining the nature of gender dysphoria, as well the different theories surrounding the causes and treatment of gender dysphoria, and the pros and cons of each. He also explains his own approach as a psychologist and his rationale. Because the research is still in early stages regarding the ramifications for the different treatment approaches, he personally advocates taking the least invasive approach that can resolve the dysphoria; which in practicality means different approaches for each individual. I won’t try to summarize his content here; I would never be able to do it justice.

One of the strengths of Yarhouse’s book for those in ministry is his careful and well thought out Christian perspective and connections to scripture paired with his deep knowledge as a psychologist and his practical experience. He has done the research and it shows. By shedding light on this topic and confronting many of the wrong perceptions and faulty ideas, his book is both beneficial and a call to many in the church to rethink their assumptions. One particularly jarring quote from his book really hit home for me;

“What most people who are gender dysphoric find in the church is rejection and shame – the feeling that there is something fundamentally flawed in them, that the flaw is their fault (back to willful disobedience) and that if others knew about their gender incongruence, they too would reject them.” (Kindle location 946)

Yarhouse’s book is timely. As such a hot button topic, it is a relevant work for anyone who wants to grow in their understanding rather than allow news headlines and Facebook rants shape their opinions. As the church, this is an area where we need to grow in our love and empathy, and I think Yarhouse helps point in a direction that accomplishes that. I have personally read a number of resources and articles in my own pursuit of understanding, and his work is the first to really help address that need for me. He has clearly done his homework, supports his assertions with the research, yet writes in a way that is approachable and understandable. Definitely worth checking out.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve

04 Jan
January 4, 2017

lost world of adam and eveJohn Walton followed up his book, The Lost World of Genesis One (my review is here), with The Lost World of Adam and Eve, an exploration of Genesis 2-3 and human origins. Walton is the professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College (he had a similar position at Moody Bible Institute previously) and a widely recognized expert on Genesis. I found his first book fascinating; this was one was certainly as well, but also quite provocative in its proposals.

He spends the first few chapters summarizing the thesis of his first book; articulating both the critical need for understanding the culture and ancient writings from the time period Genesis was written, as well as his theories reconciling science and faith in such a way that they can complement one another rather than be at odds. From there he builds a series of propositions regarding Genesis 2-3 and the origins of humanity. He builds off the idea that Adam and Eve are both literal individuals as well as archetypal, he makes the case that the description and creation of the Garden of Eden was language that describes sacred space, or a temple, and therefore Adam and Eve functioned in a priestly role for a possibly already existing humanity from which they were called. Ultimately, God’s creation was about order, an order that Adam and Eve disrupted by eating the fruit and essentially positioning themselves as gods (much like Satan looking at God’s throne and believing He could take it), with Christ’s eventual arrival about restoring order to creation.

While Walton clarifies he is not necessarily espousing this view (a safe statement for a professor at Wheaton), he does argue that there is room to believe what he proposes without compromising scripture or faith. For me, the most provocative proposals regarded Adam and Eve serving in priestly roles together (not one over the other), as well as the idea that humanity had already come into existence over time, from which Adam and Eve were called out of it (as Abraham was called out of humanity to father the Jewish race, and Jesus was called/sent to bring order). He writes, “just as God chose Israel from the rest of humankind for a special, strange, demanding vocation, so perhaps what Genesis is telling us is that God chose one pair from the rest of early hominids for a special, strange, demanding vocation” (p. 177).

Ultimately, part of Walton’s motivation in attempting to reconcile faith and scientific evidence is the reality that one of the more cited reasons for young people and adults leaving faith is feeling forced to chose between science and God. He closes his book with this thought: “Think, then, of our children and grandchildren. When they come home from college having accepted some scientific understanding about human origins that we do not find persuasive, are we going to denounce them, disinherit them and drive them from the doors of our homes and churches? Or are we going to suggest to them that there may be a way to interpret Scripture faithfully that will allow them to hold on to both science and faith? Can we believe that such a path does not represent a compromise that dilutes the faith but rather one that opens new doors to understanding that the next generation may find essential even though we find ourselves paralyzed on the threshold?  Let us pray together that we can chart a path of faithfulness and stop the hemorrhaging.” (p. 210)

Overall, Walton’s book is packed with insights, thoughts, ideas and concepts that I will be wrestling with for a while. His expertise on ancient near eastern culture and literature is fascinating. While some of his ideas are more controversial than others, he definitely challenges the reader to look at Genesis, creation, and Adam and Eve with new perspectives. The book is both intellectually challenging as well as approachable to the casual reader. Definitely something worth reading and exploring.

Unintentional Arrogance

02 Jan
January 2, 2017

unintentional arrogance

I was listening to Mark Matlock’s “Transforming Conversations: Using Research from Barna’s State of Youth Ministry Report” session from the National Youth Worker’s Convention the other day and wanted to respond to part of it. Essentially, Barna and Youth Specialties did a massive survey on youth ministry in America, producing a lot of valuable data for youth workers and churches to process and discuss; you can find the research here. In his session at the convention, Matlock highlighted some of the data, including the topic of what obstacles youth workers face in youth ministry.

To reveal my own bias, before hearing the results, my immediate response to the question of my greatest obstacle in youth ministry is my own busyness.

According to the survey, the top two obstacles reported by youth workers were (1) the busyness of youth (74% said this) and (2) 34% reported lack of parent interest (respondents could put more than one obstacle). It is significant that student busyness was far and away the highest reported obstacle.

Further complicating the conversation was the survey responses from parents regarding the busyness of their children: 11% felt their teens are way too busy, 58% feel the balance is good, and 31% believe their children need more to do.

At this point Matlock opened up the conversation to the youth workers in the room to comment on the disparity between 74% of youth workers believing students are too busy, and 89% of parents feeling kids are at the right balance or actually need more to do. There were a number of different thoughts; some felt parents needed to be educated on the busyness of their kids, perhaps parents are not in healthy balance so cannot see that their kids are not either, etc. One person suggested that youth ministries are running too many programs so kids are picking and choosing, as opposed to them actually being too busy. Matlock suggested that perhaps some youth workers blame busyness because it puts the fault of lack of involvement outside their control; it’s the fault of families and other circumstances, rather than the youth worker not giving them something they value enough to participate in.

For me, it was frustrating to hear some of the responses. Sometimes I feel like we as youth workers can be unintentionally arrogant, genuinely believing we know more about what’s best for someone else’s child(ren). Yes, there are things students talk to us about that they don’t tell their parents; while it may make me uncomfortable at times to know that my fifteen year old may go to someone else about something instead of me, I remember my own discomfort with bringing up some topics with my parents as a teenager and so I try to surround him with Christian adults I respect and trust to be positive influences and role models for him. In the same way, some of their teens come to me; but it would be incredibly arrogant of me to believe that my limited interactions with their child compared to their lifetime of daily involvement would leave me knowing more than them, only that I may have a different perspective with limited insights.

Kids make time for things they value and are excited about. Parents prioritize that involvement when they know the important enough details far enough in advance to plan for it. Rather than looking to things outside of our control to blame poor response on (busyness of teens, lack of parent interest), we should be constantly evaluating and changing our approaches and programming in response to the rapidly changing youth culture. Further, this type of blame only builds invisible walls of disconnect instead of bridges with parents. One of the values I have constantly told my team is that we should never have to guilt or manipulate kids into coming to something, and we definitely should not have to be spending excessive amounts of time trying to talk them into participating – if they’re not excited about it, than we’re doing something wrong, not them. Maybe our schedule is overcrowded, maybe we’ve picked the wrong hook, the wrong date (yeah, the time I inadvertently scheduled a retreat on homecoming weekend – that’s not them loving school more than Jesus, that’s me creating an unnecessary conflict of interest), or the wrong content.

 

Divorce (research paper)

19 Dec
December 19, 2016

This is my most recent research paper; I wrote it for my Corinthian Correspondence course. The assignment was to look at 1 Corinthians 7 and what it says about divorce; I instead tried to take a wider view, looking at the teachings of Moses, Jesus and Paul, with the goal of reconciling them to each other, and the culture of the day. I actually really found the historical context fascinating and want to do some more reading about it.

————————————————————————-

DIVORCE

201640 Fall 2016 NBST 618-D01 LUO

The Corinthian Correspondence

by Matthew McNutt

December 16, 2016

 

Introduction

Divorce is an issue that has become both increasingly debated and normalized in American churches and the culture at large. As marriage rates decrease and divorce rates increase, the two statistics are almost equal.[1] As John Murray put it, “the question of divorce is one that perennially interests and agitates the church.”[2] The Apostle Paul answers questions from the Corinthians regarding marriage, singleness and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7. Gordon Fee points out that Paul’s approach in addressing these topics is different than anywhere else in the New Testament.[3] The challenge for the modern reader is reconciling what at first glance seem to be differences in the teachings on divorce from the different biblical authors, in particular the three main voices, Moses, Jesus and Paul. Moses not only allows it, but creates a legal system for it; Jesus forbids it except in the case of adultery; Paul recommends against divorce in the case of adultery, but allows it if a spouse is unsaved and desires divorce.

What is perhaps more important to this topic is what is left unsaid in scripture. These texts range in age from two thousand years ago to thirty-five hundred years ago, presenting a number of cultural and language challenges to surmount. Views and understandings of divorce left unwritten because they were assumed common knowledge at the time create challenges to understanding the intent of the authors today, creating a need to both understand the culture of the Jewish people as well as the influence of surrounding nations and cultural understandings of marriage and divorce relevant to the time period.[4] This paper will demonstrate that God’s view of the marriage covenant is that is binding and lifelong, with monogamy being His intent throughout scripture by primarily looking at the teachings of Moses, Jesus and Paul. However, while scripture presents a high standard for marriage, it also demonstrates and understanding of the reality of a sinful, fallen world, with a heart for protecting those who would be taken advantage of or injured through divorce. It is not an affirmation of divorce, rather, an uncomfortable tension between the holiness God desires and the ongoing reality of sinful flesh.

Moses

The first major instructions regarding the issue of divorce come from the Pentateuch, which tradition credits Moses as the author.[5] While there are a handful of mentions elsewhere in the Old Testament, it is Moses who describes both the beginnings of marriage in Genesis and the institution of divorce certificates as part of the law in Deuteronomy. There are many parallels between the marriage practices of the ancient Near East and the Jewish marriage practices.[6]

Ancient Practices

While covenant language was used in ancient marriage practices, it was interchangeable with the modern idea of contracts. Covenant language was used not just for marriages, but also for treaties, hiring labor, as well as other types of transactions.[7] Being a patriarchal society, marriage negotiations took place between the father of the bride and the husband-to-be’s household, with a contract decided on that included a bride-price to be paid to the bride’s parents.[8] The bride had no official voice in the negotiation process or the selection of a husband. One interesting aspect of the exchange was the dowry that came with the bride; it was delivered after the wedding was consummated and remained the property of the bride, to be passed down to only her children in the event of her death (in the case of polygamy), and if the husband were to divorce or break the relationship she was to be released with her dowry returned to her possession. The husband would only be allowed to keep the dowry if the bride was the one to violate the terms of the marriage covenant.[9]

Many of the stipulations went unwritten because they were universally understood. Culture dictated certain basic rights and responsibilities. While women were not considered property in the same way that land or livestock were, the comparison is still valid as the majority of the rights were possessed by men. The dowry was typically the only thing recorded in exact detail, in part because with marriage viewed as a contract, the loss of the dowry would have been the main penalty for breaking the contract.[10] In reality, short of committing adultery – which would result in a death sentence, there was no way for a woman to leave a man, while the man had significantly more freedom to put the woman out and divorce her.[11] Because divorces were not officially documented, however, a woman was not free to remarry because she technically stilled belonged to her former husband. This generally left abandoned women in a particularly vulnerable and untenable position.

Moses’ Instructions

The institution of marriage is first documented in Genesis 2:23-24, which following the naming of the animals in pairs, as well as Adam and Eve being created for one another, forms the foundation of monogamy being God’s intended plan for humans from creation.[12] Waltke writes that this first marriage, with Eve given to Adam by God, teaches that “every marriage is divinely ordained,” with the intent to correct the cultural teachings that stressed parental bonds over marital bonds.[13] While polygamy was common throughout the Old Testament, the growing view throughout the Old Testament writings suggests that monogamy was a value that was increasingly recognized as the ideal, with that teaching really coming to fruition in the years before Christ’s arrival.[14]

Research indicates that when it came to marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the Jews largely shared the same cultural views as the rest of the ancient Near East.[15] A reoccurring theme for Moses in Deuteronomy that sets Jews apart from the surrounding cultures is the protection of the dignity of a woman vulnerable to abuse in marriage.[16] One example is in Deuteronomy 21:10-14, which gives instructions regarding the capture of women in war and the process for making them wives. While barbaric in modern culture, what Moses mandates in this passage humanizes women by giving them a month to grieve the death of their former husbands in contrast to the ancient Near Eastern culture which typically allowed for a conquering army to not only claim the women of the men they killed, but to make them their wives that same day. In the same vein, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 dictates that a man divorcing his wife must give her a certificate of divorce, as well as clarifies that he is not allowed to remarry her at any point.

This creation of a divorce certificate is unique to Judaism; there is no evidence that any other culture required or created such a document in divorce.[17] This document served to protect the woman, not the man. When divorces took place, because there was no documentation, women were left in a vulnerable legal limbo; they were not married, but could not marry someone else as their first husband could technically still reclaim them, even after marrying someone else.[18] It left them financially, socially, and culturally ruined, with few prospects for the future. By mandating a divorce certificate, Moses was not affirming divorce as God’s plan, he was instead living out the ideals of Proverbs 31:8-9 by speaking for and defending those who could not do so for themselves. The certificate documented the formal severing of any claim on that woman her now former husband may have had, as well as required the return of her dowry to her, thereby giving her assets, as well as releasing her legally to remarry without fear of reprisals or demands on her or any future children.[19]

Jesus

There are four places in which Jesus taught on the topic of divorce in the gospels, largely in the response to questions based on the religious leaders of the days understanding of marriage, divorce, and the law of Moses. The passages are found in Matthew 5:31-32, 19:2-9; Mark 10:2-12; and Luke 16:18.

Jewish Practices

By the first century rabbinic leaders largely agreed on the laws regarding marriage and divorce; they taught that grounds for divorce were childlessness, material neglect, emotional neglect, and unfaithfulness.[20] While divorce was not considered ideal, they saw it as sometimes necessary, and only enacted by the husband – although legally a wife could petition the court to persuade the husband to divorce her.[21] Essentially, while a man had to enter a divorce voluntarily, a woman could be divorced against her will. The one area of disagreement was a more recent interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 by the Hillelites that suggested a divorce could take place for “any matter.”[22] This caused tremendous debate and had significant repercussions.

Jesus’ Teachings

While there are four passages where Jesus teaches on divorce, the bulk of his teaching happens in the parallel passages of Matthew 19:2-9 and Mark 10:2-12; the other passage in Matthew and the passage in Luke repeat in brief the same principles present in these two larger passages. Essentially, Jesus was teaching in public when the Pharisees came and tested him with the question of whether or not it is legal to divorce for any matter. While Mark simply records the question as to whether or not it is legal to divorce, the question as stated in Matthew 19:3, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” is assumed to be the full question and is implied in the Mark reference as Jewish law made it clear divorce was already legal.[23]

A significant contrast between the two passages is that the Pharisees in Matthew are quoted as saying Moses commanded divorce, but then Jesus corrects them to say Moses permitted divorce, while the reverse is true of Mark. In Mark, Jesus references Moses’ command regarding divorce, while the Pharisees use the word “permitted.” Some interpret Jesus use of the word command in Mark as Christ’s way of not mandating divorce but as “an attempt to limit its worst consequences for women.”[24] A more likely reconciling of these differences centers on the order in which the two authors write their narratives and the resulting communication requirements with regards to the Mosaic law. With Mark writing Jesus’s response as the one bringing up Moses’ command; it would have been inappropriate for Jesus to refer to the Law as something Moses “allowed,” He would have naturally used the word “command” with reference to the passage in Deuteronomy.[25] Matthew’s version, however, has the Pharisees asking the question regarding Moses’ “command,” making Jesus’ reply regarding it being something permitted, not commanded, more allowable. In either passage, however, the teaching point comes through; in contrast to the general belief that divorce was required in the cases of adultery and even suspected adultery, the reality is that God simply permits it.[26]

Jesus highlights the reality that divorce was permitted not because God views it as necessary or part of His plan, but instead because of their hard-heartedness while at the same time condemning the idea that divorce could happen for “any matter.” It was a necessary reaction to protect women from further abuse. He then goes on to point out in the Mark passage by referencing directly the Genesis 2 passage, and in Matthew by indirectly Genesis with the words, “from the beginning,” that God’s intent for marriage is to be a holy and unbreakable covenant, while Moses’ law is a concession.[27] In Matthew only this permission hinges only on sexual infidelity, which leads many scholars to believe it was added to Matthew’s gospel as opposed to left out of Mark and Luke.[28]

Where Christ is truly shocking to his audience is the way in which He deepens the understanding of God’s view of the marriage covenant with His startling admonition in all four passages that remarriage is adultery. Bruner writes, “So sacred is the marriage bond that even when it is externally broken it lives on with a kind of inward taboo power, contaminating anyone who dares break what God’s own hands joined together.”[29] The message driven home powerfully by Christ then is this; divorce may be a concession allowed because of sin, but God’s plan is something far more beautiful, a covenant not bound by time, that ultimately is revealed later in scripture to be a picture of Christ’s love and eternal commitment for and to His church (Ephesians 5:31-32).

Paul

Paul’s writings produce some interesting insights into the topic of divorce. In Romans 7:2-3 he essentially repeats Christ’s teaching that remarriage while the former spouse is still alive is adultery as an example in the context of explaining the law to his readers. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul goes into far more detail on the topics of marriage, singleness and divorce. Additionally, Paul’s insights would have been read differently than Jesus’ teachings for a couple reasons; the first is that he is writing to a specific church answering their specific questions. Secondly, he is writing to a mix of gentile and Jewish believers, as opposed to Christ who was speaking to an essentially Jewish audience. This is significant because while there were similarities in understandings of divorce, there would still be some differences in culture and understanding between the two scenarios.

Greco-Roman Practices

In Greco-Roman culture, and Roman law, there was a different level of freedom for women than in Jewish culture. Couples were involved in the decision to marry each other and had reciprocal rights in the marriage process.[30] Although, with the minimum age for women to marry at twelve years of age, while the men were typically much older when they married, one wonders how much say the woman had initially in the marriage as opposed to later on.[31] When it came to divorce, both men and women could divorce their partner without the need to name grounds for divorce or any warning.[32] Neither the man or the woman could prevent a divorce if their spouse decided to leave, and there was no need to document the divorce as it could be done verbally. Divorce was so common and expected that Greco-Roman marriage certificates were worded as though divorce was the expectation, not death, to end the marriage.[33]

Paul’s Teachings

It is important to keep in mind that Paul is writing in 1 Corinthians 7 in response to specific questions to an audience of people made up of those with a Jewish understanding of marriage and divorce and those with a Greco-Roman view. Throughout the chapter he addresses different groups; married, widowed, singles, divorced, those married to believers, those married to unbelievers, etc. He tackles divorce specifically in verses 10-16, but even in those passages he addresses at least two groups; those who are married to believers and those who are married to unbelievers, with his instructions changing depending on the intended audience.

The first group he speaks to regarding marriage is the believing married couple in verses 10-11. He changes his tone from his previous tone of giving advice to taking charge; he emphasizes his instruction with the word “command” that they are not to separate.[34] There are a three things that stand out in these verses:

The first is that Paul leaves off the exception of sexual infidelity that he mentions with this command elsewhere, which suggests that he is referring to a specific type of divorce being discussed at the Corinthian church that does not meet Christ’s qualifications for divorce and mentioning the exception of sexual infidelity would not be applicable to the situation.[35]

The second thing to notice is that he begins the command by singling out the wife first, and then the husband; typically, the man would have been addressed first, which again suggests that he is dealing with an individual, or a specific group of people, most likely women, with this answer.[36]

Finally, he singles out the woman as needing to be reconciled to her husband, but does not use the same word with regards to the husband. This word, “to reconcile” is used by Paul typically to describe a “reconciliation effected by the gospel.”[37] Again, the woman is singled out, with an emphasis on both reuniting with her husband as well as a call to the gospel, which hints that he is targeting a woman, or a group of women, with theological issues with these statements.

Some have theorized that verses ten through eleven are in reference specifically to a group of “eschatological women.” This was a group of women who reoccur throughout 1 Corinthians who were living as if they had totally entered the new age and believed they had already realized the “resurrection from the dead.” As a result, they believed they lived as the angels, which if this is the intended audience, would make sense in that they would have rejected sexual relations with their husbands (perhaps why the topic of spouses denying their husband or wife sex is addressed earlier in the chapter) and were perhaps even arguing for divorce.[38] With Paul’s opening statement in verse one that he is writing in response to matters they contacted him about, it makes sense that the “eschatological women” are the focus point of these verses; it would also explain why Paul ignores Christ’s exceptions for divorce and instead commands them. He has assessed their situation and recognizes that there are no valid biblical grounds for divorce, so he commands them to remain married and to be reconciled both to their husbands and to their God. Therefore, there is no contradiction between his commands here and Christ’s instructions in the gospels or the law of Moses.

Verses twelve through sixteen see a shift in audience from married couples who share faith but are dealing with the topic of divorce, to married couples where only one of the spouses is a believer. Mixing religions in a marriage is challenging in modern culture; in the first century it was far more complicated. Culture demanded that the wife followed the lead of the husband, and even the Old Testament (Ezra 10:3, 19) gave precedent for divorcing a pagan.[39] It is not surprising to consider given either of these realities, as well as the cultural prevalence of divorce, that some of the believers may have been considering leaving their unbelieving spouse. Given first century culture, it must have been surprising that Paul’s advice to the men and women was the same; to not leave their unbelieving spouse. As believers, they were to honor the covenant and take it seriously in a way that only believers could truly understand. Paul goes on to challenge them with the thought that their unbelieving spouse may become a believer because of their influence. Thom Rainer did extensive research on how the church reaches the unchurched in America; one of his startling findings was that relationships are the most effective way in reaching the lost, with marriage relationships being at the top – specifically, wives reaching their husbands are the most influential group in reaching the unchurched.[40] Modern research affirms what Paul wrote so long ago.

Conversely, Paul advises the believing spouses in this passage to let their unsaved spouses divorce them if they decide to do so. Essentially, Paul is saying that the church has no authority over someone who has not given their life to Christ, therefore there is nothing they can do to restrain them from this decision. There is great debate over whether or not this passage releases the believing spouse for remarriage with another believer, but that is not the focal point of Paul’s message here, which is that believers, when it is in their power to do so, should remain married.[41] His concern is not whether or not they remarry, but instead with both preserving their marriage covenant as well as reaching their lost spouse for God.

Conclusion

What becomes increasingly apparent, even in this brief survey of these passages and the culture of the day, is that scripture is both consistent in its teachings in marriage, as well as progressively challenging the followers to God to greater and greater Christ-likeness. The biblical standard is unbroken monogamy, ultimately to paint a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church. The law of Moses was a concession; not to give the people the divorces they wanted, but to protect the women who were already being taken advantage of. The ideal was still sacrificial, unbroken monogamy. The reality was that some abused their position of power and God created a way for the abused to be protected.

Jesus took the understanding to a far deeper level, revealing the true heart of God in marriage. Like Moses, His exceptions that permitted divorce were not the plan, they were a concession if remaining in marriage was not possible. Again, it flew in the face of a culture that discarded undesired spouses and affirmed God’s perfect plan. While Paul’s instructions at first seem different than Christ’s, a deeper study of the context of the passage reveals that Paul was not changing the standard, rather he was simply voicing the aspects of God’s standard that applied to the situation at hand, as well as emphasizing that God’s people are to be held to God’s standard, while the first priority for the lost is to be reached for God.

The incredible depth of scripture in the area of marriage is something to be deeply studied and not treated lightly. Scripture presents an uncomfortable tension between the high view of marriage that God intends and the reality of the ongoing fallenness of sinful flesh, demanding both high expectations as well as grace and mercy for those who call Christ Lord. Preserving the marriage covenant is the calling, divorce is a concession for protection.

Bibliography

Block, Daniel I. Deuteronomy (The NIV Application Commentary). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12. Revised ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.

Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28. Rev ed. Grand Rapids Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Campbell, Ken M., ed. Marriage and Family in the Biblical World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003.

Ciampa, Roy E., and Brian S. Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. Nottingham, England: Eerdmans, 2010.

Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Revised Edition (The New International Commentary On the New Testament). Revised ed. Downers Grove, IL: Eerdmans, 2014.

House, H. Wayne, ed. Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1990.

Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Murray, John. Divorce. Philadelphia: P & R Publishing, 1961.

Rainer, Thom S. Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them. Nashville, TN: Zondervan, 2008.

Ross, Allen P. Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1988.

Taylor, Mark. 1 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary). Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014.

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Walton, John. Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

[1] H. Wayne House, ed., Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1990), 9.

[2] John Murray, Divorce (Philadelphia: P & R Publishing, 1961), 1.

[3]  Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Revised Edition (The New International Commentary On the New Testament), Revised ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Eerdmans, 2014), 270.

[4] David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), Kindle location 1508.

[5] John Walton, Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 41.

[6] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 47.

[7] Ibid, Kindle location 58.

[8] Ken M. Campbell, ed., Marriage and Family in the Biblical World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 10.

[9] Ibid, 11.

[10] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 225.

[11] Ibid, Kindle location 111.

[12] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1988), 126-127.

[13] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 90.

[14] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 256.

[15] Ibid, Kindle location 238.

[16] Daniel I. Block, Deuteronomy (The NIV Application Commentary) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 557.

[17] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 333.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid, Kindle location 948.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid, Kindle location 1189.

[23] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 300.

[24] Ibid, 302.

[25] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 1538.

[26] Ibid, Kindle location 1550.

[27] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28, Rev ed. (Grand Rapids Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 260.

[28] Ibid, 263.

[29] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12, Revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 230.

[30] Campbell, Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, 148.

[31] Ibid, 149.

[32] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 2140.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Mark Taylor, 1 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014), 171.

[35] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 291.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Taylor, 1 Corinthians, 171.

[38] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 290.

[39] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Nottingham, England: Eerdmans, 2010), 294.

[40] Thom S. Rainer, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them (Nashville, TN: Zondervan, 2008), Kindle location 1106.

[41] Taylor, 1 Corinthians, 175.